By ED WHITE, Associated Press
DETROIT (AP) — Michigan’s Supreme Court was urged Wednesday to strike down a law that requires those convicted of crimes to pay millions of dollars in daily operating costs for local courts.
The challenge comes at a key time: the law expires in October and a Supreme Court ruling would affect the legislature’s response.
Critics say it is unconstitutional for a judge to oversee a criminal case and also have the power to order someone to pay a share to keep the lights on, the building clean and office supplies stocked .
The money goes to local government from a court, but only those convicted of crimes have to pay, not others who use the courts. Nothing is taken from the budget of prosecutors who lose cases.
“The significant conflict of interest here is that judges, when imposing a sentence and deciding whether or not to impose court costs, must consider this fundraising element,” Angeles Meneses said. , attorney for Travis Johnson, who is challenging $1,200 in fines in Alpena County.
“They have to think about the finances of the very court they preside over. … It’s incredibly problematic,” Meneses told the Supreme Court.
From 2018 to 2020, courts raised $108 million statewide, 75% of which went to district courts, which handle traffic tickets, drunk driving cases and other offenses primarily committed by people who have the least means to pay.
Costs may vary by community. Some judges don’t order them.
For example, in Newaygo County in 2020, an average of $158 was assessed in 1,301 district court cases. But nearby in Lake County, the average was $42 in 1,458 cases.
A statewide association of district court judges supports the repeal of the law.
Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said her concern was “appearance of bias”, not actual bias of local judges.
If the law were explained in simple terms to the public, “don’t you think most people would say, ‘Wait a minute? That doesn’t sound good,” McCormack said.
Judge David Viviano, a former Macomb County judge, said some courts are ordering fees that are hard to substantiate. But he wondered if that meant that “the whole system is unconstitutional”.
In defense of the law, Deputy Attorney General Linus Banghart-Linn said it was a political decision made by the Legislative Assembly.
“Not a dollar goes into the judge’s pocket,” he said.
Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwritez
cleared ahs cleared Wednesday Critics of a Michigan law that allows judges to assess millions of dollars in court operating costs on criminal defendants
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.